Back for his second guest appearance is Dr. John Leininger, a professor in the Department of Graphic Communications at Clemson University. In this post, he explains how eye-tracking software can help pinpoint the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of specific design elements in printed communications. This topic is an intriguing complement to our recent post on how direct mail is creative only if it works.
When you create a printed marketing piece, it is an investment that includes many variables. This encompasses the cost of the design, the production of the piece, the accuracy of the data to properly mail the piece to the right customer and the postage cost. Then you must manage everything so that it shows up at the right time so your offer is presented properly to the customer. Everything has to work right just for the chance that it will trigger a response.
Everything in this list is methodical and easily systemized except for one thing – the design. If the design of the piece does not work, the rest of the process is a total waste of time and money. How can you make the design of a printed piece (or for that matter—a webpage or email) more systemized? How can you improve the chances it will do what you expect? Technology has given us some amazing tools where we can now test the designer’s masterpiece and really find out if it does what they tell us it does.
Whenever I talk about eye-tracking software I think back to one interaction with a designer telling me how the color and placement of an image on a page was so perfect, yet all I could think was that it was confusing and just ugly. They told me I just did not understand design. So when I started working with eye-tracking software with my students to evaluate print design, it clearly became a way to prove designers sometimes do not think like the customer.
Sometimes I think that is a tall order for designers because they are typically creative and artistic – some people might say right-brain dominant. Often their readers may be logical, methodical, and analytical people – some people might say left-brain dominant. People do not see the world through the same set of eyes or the same type of brain.
So what does eye-tracking software do? There are several types including a pair of glasses with two cameras – one that looks at your eyes and one that looks forward and calculates what you are looking at. Another is a computer screen that has a camera aimed at the viewer that tracks where he or she is looking on the screen. The software looks at the order you view elements of the image (or what you do not view), measures how long you look at an image, and measures the involvement of the image (whether or not you are reading the text). Tobii is one of the leading manufacturers of eye-tracking equipment, and they have several great training videos on their webpage.
Below is a sample of an exercise one of my students did. They had to take an existing ad, track the eye movement through the ad (with at least a dozen people), and then improve the design. The first image is the original Subway ad. It showed only 38% of the viewers looked at the Subway logo. They redesigned the ad with three critical areas where they were looking for 100% viewing – the product, the price and the logo. They were able to achieve better results in the second image. In the third image, you can see that they even tracked the order that people look at the images.
With these new systemized tools you can now tell if the design is working. It might be a bit time consuming and expensive to check every printed piece, but used strategically, it might just be the best investment for success. Design by itself cannot create a response, but good design is critical – and now you can actually test it and see for yourself.
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